Seder Tales — RABBI JASON KLEINApril 4th, 2017
JCP’s hallways are abuzz with the sounds of children singing “Dayenu,” which means that Passover is quickly approaching. I think that Pesach is the cornerstone of the Jewish calendar because it comes with two stories, the particular story of our ancestors transitioning to freedom, coalescing into a people, and the universal story about our responsibility for our fellow human beings, that true freedom is only possible once all are free.
Around the seder table, we have the opportunity to reenact the greatest Jewish memory by imagining ourselves as if we personally left Egypt. Personalizing of the story means it is less important to read every word of the Haggadah, and more important for children and adults alike to learn the story, to tell the story, and to ask questions. The setting of the table—the seder plate and three pieces of matzah—are intended to begin inspiring those questions.
Want to dive more deeply into your seder planning? Here are some of my favorite ideas:
NOURISHING OUR BODIES
After saying Kiddush over the first cup of wine and a ritual preliminary rinsing of our hands (urchatz) , the next part of the seder is called karpas. Families often dip parsley or a boiled potato in salt water or vinegar and say a blessing before eating it, opening the story with a “spring vegetable.” You can use this occasion to serve a full vegetable appetizer course, not just a tiny piece of parsley. Fuller stomachs can make for fuller connection to the telling of the story.
NOURISHING OUR MINDS
The four children who make an appearance at the beginning of the seder—archetypes of wise, rebellious, simple, and silent—do not have to be limited to one appearance near the beginning of the seder. Rabbis Joy Levitt and Michael Strassfeld in A Night of Questions, give these children voices over and over again throughout the seder. So you can assign four people these parts, one to act like each type of child asking questions in that style throughout the ritual and the meal; choosing the right people makes this both engaging and may make for some memorable laughter.
NOURISHING THE WORLD
The seder can be a time to think about global justice in a world that is still very broken. After those around your table take ten drops of wine from their glasses, plague by plague, invite people around the table to name contemporary plagues that still exist. Ancient themes around slavery, homelessness, and fear of “strangers” are all too relevant in today’s world. This is also an opportunity while people are gathered around the table to talk as a family or extended family about one issue of justice on which your family might focus its attention in the year ahead.
BUT WAIT, WHAT HAGGADAH SHOULD I USE?
Do you wish you were using a different Haggadah or want to mix things up a bit? Even if everyone is using the same Haggadah, you can bring a copy of a different one, and offer a reading or teaching that you find especially meaningful at an appropriate time. We have a display of Haggadot in the JCP lobby now that might inspire you, and a quick search on-line will also yield a variety of additional readings from American Jewish World Service, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and even the Hamilton Haggadah.
Please be in touch if you have questions in the days ahead as you prepare for the holiday, and best wishes for a sweet, happy Passover.
Rabbi Jason Klein is the Director of the Center for Jewish Life at JCP. Rabbi Jason grew up in Stuyvesant Town and Montclair, NJ before returning to the City for college at Columbia, where he majored in religion. After receiving rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2002, he became the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Emeth on the South Shore of Long Island. Rabbi Jason completed seven years of service as Executive Director with Hillel at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) before coming to JCP and recently finished serving for two years as President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, a volunteer position. He lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.